Book Review: On the Pickle Trail — 100 Recipes from Around the World

This book could not have landed on my desk at a more opportune time. Because it’s during the four-month monsoon season here in Mumbai, that I find myself reaching for that pot of homemade nimbu ka achar (lime pickle) or the occasional pickled Goan prawn balchao.

All to brighten up my clichéd “rainy day” meal of simple arhar dal (pigeon peas) tempered in ghee with hot white rice.

Even though it was almost the end of the season when I started this book, I loved reading each of its 100 recipes – and trying a handful – with manic enthusiasm.

And while we all certainly have our favorite well-kept family pickle recipe, it’s so fascinating to learn about pickling and fermentation techniques around the world. Something that forms the heart of this cookbook.

Background Notes

The author of this book, Monish Gujral, brings some seriousness to the subject of stripping and preservation. Although he is not a chef, he has an impressive pedigree in the history of Indian cuisine. The one that makes him the perfect chronicler of a subject like pickles. And he does it with honesty and simplicity.

Letting its main topic tickle our collective taste buds with a plethora of easy yet effective recipes from around the world.

From the famous Gujral clan that gave us the legendary Moti Mahal restaurant chain, the author is the grandson of the illustrious Kundan Lal Gujral. Yes, the same person who not only invented the iconic dish of butter chicken, but also one of the greatest “side acts” in Indian cooking.

I speak eloquently of the ubiquitous sirka pyaaz (pink pearl onions in vinegar, page 48) that every self-respecting Indian restaurant from Bengaluru to Birmingham will have on its condiment platter.

But not one to rest on the laurels of the past, the author is an authority on Indian cuisine in his own right as a food writer and commentator.

In fact, his previous book ‘ On the butter chicken trail‘ was voted the world’s best cookbook in 2008 in the ‘easy recipe’ category and subsequently the world’s best in 2015 at the Frankfurt World Cookbook Fair by Gourmand.

International atmosphere

During your stay in Germany, did you know that the iconic German sauerkraut (page 26) was invented by the Chinese? I certainly didn’t! According to Gujral, the Chinese first made it by pickling cabbage in rice wine. This apparently gives the pickle as many probiotics as you would find in a bowl of Greek yogurt.

One of my all-time favorite pickles – and very easy to make – is Italian giardiniera (page 11) which is by the way the first recipe in the book.

This follows the very helpful sections on Getting Started with Stripping. From choosing the right spice blends to learning how to sterilize pickle bottles before use.

Taking the reader around the world on a pickle tour are recipes for everything from a pickle of salmon from Alaska (pg 50) and pickled eggs from the UK (pg 38) to an entire section on Japanese pickles like blushing pink gari (ginger sushi, pg 33), tsukemono (mixed pickled vegetables, pg 42) and kyuri asa-zuke (pickled cucumber, pg 17).

sour taste

But speaking of cucumbers, I felt like the author focused a little too much on the many iterations of pickled cucumbers that exist around the world. Make it over a dozen recipes for versions from Indonesia and Poland to Armenia and Russia. And then others…

Same with turnips. We have at least six turnip pickle recipes ranging from Israeli left torshi (pg 19) and something very confusing and similar called Israeli pickled turnips (pg 70) to Persian left turshi (pg 80) and Lebanese fermented pickled turnips (pg 80) 78)!

It’s at the complete expense of several iconic pickles that he could have easily included. Take for example Goa’s pickle superstars like the aforementioned balchao, torra shiro (pickle in mango water) and pungent mackerel parra. Or maybe some of the many canned pork and fish pickles in the Northeast?

Surprises galore!

The author, however, more than makes up for these outliers by giving us a bunch of interesting pickle recipes made with ingredients you would least expect to find. Take for example the yum-sounding trio of California Quick Orange Pickle (pg 125), Achari Angoor (pg 127) and Maldivian Fish Pickle (pg 98).

Near the very end of the book, an entire section is devoted to one of my favorite types of pickles. Sweet pickles, preserves and murabbas. Here we find examples like the famous amla murabba (pg 213), date pickle (pg 219) and apple pickle (pg 223).

“Marking has been a source of food preservation for centuries and artisanal pickling and fermentation techniques are the essence of this book,” says Monish Gujral, summing it all up succinctly.

And after combing through this book with a fine-toothed comb, I wholeheartedly agree.

Check the book on Amazon.

(Wear many hats in the food and travel space, Mumbai-based Raul Dias is a food travel writer, restaurant reviewer and food consultant)

On the trail of pickles – 100 recipes from around the world by Monish Gujral.

Editor: Penguin Random House India.



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Rozella J. Cook